The Shallows is a movie with a premise so simple it’s basically just adorable. The main (very nearly only) character in the film, played by Blake Lively, is a surfer who encounters a shark and finds herself stranded only a couple of hundred yards from shore on a small rock outcropping. The film is taken up with her struggle to deal with her injuries, survive, figure out a way to get back to shore without being killed and, in a surprising and totally entertaining subplot, bond with an equally injured seagull. Collet-Serra has made his share of flops, but he’s good at genre fare when he wants to be (see Non-Stop for about the best example) and this is a tight film, briskly paced, beautifully directed and under ninety minutes. Lively isn’t an actress I’ve seen in much, but she really owns this role and this film; she’s charismatic enough to carry the film and her performance is genuinely great; she makes Nancy a pragmatist, someone who’s always thinking and never prone to panic, but as the hours tick by, the strain starts to show. The treatment of the shark is interesting; she (it is a female, I believe) never feels malevolent or monstrous. She’s simply a force of nature, doing what comes naturally. This isn’t a monster movie nor does the shark ever take on characteristics, as in Jaws. You never believe in the shark as some sort of genuine antagonist; she’s just a presence. This is interesting and refreshing. Collet-Serra is also surprisingly interested in beauty. Until the chaos starts, Collet-Serra spends his time exploring the gorgeous beach where the film was shot; the water, the horizon, the mountain, the trees . . . Collet-Serra is obviously taken with this location and he should be. He’s also interested in Lively’s physical beauty in a really interesting way. He moves away from this beautiful aesthetic as the film progresses, but during the passages where he’s showing us the beauty of nature, he lets his camera linger on Lively’s lithe form and the way she moves through the water or across the beach. It’s an odd experience as it seems like he’s treating her physicality in a genuinely aesthetic sense; it never feels sexualized or exploitative. It’s not the typical “hot girl in a bikini” sexy aesthetic of a cheesier movie, but something more beautiful. It’s an interesting movie for a lot of reasons; it makes surprisingly smart decisions. There’s a great bit where the director plays a shark attack completely on Lively’s face, selling the horror with her reaction instead of gouts of blood. The movie keeps dialogue to a minimum and doesn’t fall into the “character constantly talks to herself” trap that really hindered movies like Gravity for me. For this reason, I was often a step or two behind Nancy in a compelling way. The climactic showdown with the shark for instance . . . no spoilers, but I’ll just say that for a large portion of that, I knew Nancy was trying to do something in particular, that she had some kind of a plan, but I had no idea what she was up to. Call me crazy: I kind of love a movie where the main character is smarter than the audience. Anyway, this movie isn’t going to change the world, but it doesn’t want to. What it wants to do, it basically succeeds at in exemplary fashion. It’s a tight, consistently entertaining, hardly cheesy at all genre piece. Calling it the second best shark movie of all time isn’t, given the entries in the genre, particularly great praise, but it’s certainly true and it would be more to the point to call it BY FAR the second best movie in the genre, the only one besides Jaws, I’d say, to really succeed on anywhere near this level. It doesn’t transcend the genre, but in a genre this populated with utter nonsense, coming this close is worth a lot. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – shark attack thriller is beautifully directed, tightly paced and features a star-making turn from Lively; head & shoulders above everything but Jaws, this one’s a winner. 3 ½ stars.